EZA Kick-off Seminar 2023

“Ready for AI? – The world of work in the upcoming revolution”

EZA's 2023 kick-off seminar took place on 23 and 24 November in Sofia, Bulgaria. This year's event focussed on the topic: "Ready for AI? - The world of work in the upcoming revolution". 

During the opening, the President of Podkrepa expressed his opinion that, in his view, technology cannot be intelligent. According to him, only humans can possess intellect. Veselin Mitov, the International Secretary of Podkrepa, stated that artificial intelligence (AI) would inevitably have a strong impact on all sectors of the world's economy, from health to agriculture to infrastructure. He emphasized the responsibility of union representatives to learn how to deal with the impacts and work towards ensuring the protection and advancement of rights and interests. Luc Van den Brande, President of EZA, welcomed all participants in a video delivered in fluent Bulgarian, even though he doesn’t know a single world of that language, demonstrating the possibilities that AI offers. Jörg Tagger, Head of the Social Dialogue unit at the Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs, and Inclusion of the European Commission, as well as the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Bulgaria, Mariya Gabriel (via video), also greeted the participants and contextualized the theme of AI for themselves. 

Throughout the conference, discussions revolved around the new reality in the workplace, legal and ethical aspects, specific employment-related issues, regulation of AI, and the impacts on social dialogue and its needs. A detailed report on the conference and its contents will be published in a few days in our EZA magazine. Until then, the following aspects can be gleaned from the conference: 

The rapid development of Artificial Intelligence has had profound effects on the job market in recent years. AI technologies undeniably offer new opportunities and efficiency gains, while simultaneously presenting significant challenges to trade unions. 

The automation of repetitive and time-consuming tasks by AI can lead to considerable efficiency improvements in various industries. This allows the release of resources for more demanding tasks and simultaneously creates new job fields that require specific AI skills. This provides workers with the opportunity to adapt their qualifications and establish themselves in emerging sectors. 

On the other hand, unions face challenges such as potential job losses, especially in areas where repetitive or easily automatable tasks dominate. Uncertainty about the future work situation due to AI can trigger fears among workers, requiring unions to support their members and facilitate the transition to new job areas. 

A central challenge lies in the need for lifelong learning, as the continuous development of AI requires workers to be constantly ready for further education. In this regard, unions should promote initiatives for further education to ensure that their members can keep pace with the changing demands of the job market. 

The role of unions extends beyond negotiating fair working conditions. They must also advocate for protection against discrimination related to AI and ensure that AI systems are deployed fairly and transparently to avoid biases in the workplace. Furthermore, unions can play a central role in promoting retraining and education programs to strengthen the adaptability of their members to the changing requirements of the job market. 

Overall, the integration of AI into the job market requires close collaboration between employers, employees, and unions. Only through joint efforts can the opportunities be seized and the risks mitigated to create a just and sustainable working world in the age of Artificial Intelligence.